Watching Desolation of Smaug I can’t help but feel a clash between my liberal socialist values and those of the series’ “heroes”.
The quest of going to the mountain to kill the dragon, take back the gold and restore the dwarven kingdom is problematic. For starters, a dragon, whether evil or not, is a rare and beautiful creature. As far as I can tell, Smaug is the only one of his kind in this part of the world. Surely even evil creatures should be preserved for the next generation?
And that’s assuming that Smaug genuinely is evil. Yes, he is clearly anti-social. Yes, he defies the laws of Dwarven kings, taking their kingdom and their gold. Yes, he threatens those who enter the mountain. Yes, he has killed many people and dwarves in the past. But when the hobbit and the dwarves enter Smaug’s lair, he avoids killing them, feigning stupidity and humouring their attempts to trap him. This is a clear sign that he is to some extent a reformed dragon, and is owed some degree of recognition for defying his naturally evil dragon instincts. He has fallen through the safety net, largely because of his near total vilification by the general public (and the right-wing media), but he still does not kill those who seek to kill him. Surely if someone had simply volunteered to bring Smaug tea and biscuits and listen to him, his anger would have been greatly diminished, and many lives saved?
Then there is the question of what is to be done once the gold is captured and the Dwarven kingdom restored. Gold, as any truly scientific economic observer will recognise, is not wealth in itself. The people cannot eat gold or wear gold, gold will not cure diseases or educate the young, gold will not protect the dwarven borders and, contrary to nineteenth century myths about New York City, one cannot pave the streets with gold. Gold is primarily a store of value and a means of exchange. But so much gold is held in the mountains, kept out of circulation by Smaug, that the inflationary impact of releasing it or spending it could be catastrophic, not just for the Dwarves, but for the whole of middle earth. And when hyperinflation strikes, it is the working classes – those without property or land– who suffer most, whilst the mortgage holders and landlords can snap up more than they hold in exchange for loaves of bread. And that is without mentioning the political impact of hyperinflation.
Economic collapse paved the way for Nazi rule in our history, and middle earth has its own charismatic reactionary revolutionary – a man who promises power and hierarchy, who rejects the values of the enlightenment, and is prepared to use modern industrial technology to conquer the known world.
And what does Gandalf do in the face of this fascist threat? He sets the dwarves off to slay an irrelevant dragon. This creature could be a bulwark against the forces of Sauronism, but instead it is driven to the same side as the forces of evil by the actions of those in the West. What is more, removing the dragon from the mountain is sure to create a power vacuum that will invite conflict between elves, men and dwarves – the very people who should be united in this time of need.
And then there is Bilbo, a thief who steals a psychologically disturbed homeless person’s only possession. And that is why I cannot call Bilbo, or any of his party, “heroes”.